When Christophe Sand saw Algiers from the sky for the first time and its Casbah shrouded in clouds, he burst into tears. “I felt a pain that was completely unknown to me, he confides. A want to scream.”
Christophe Sand grew up more than 17,000 kilometers from Algiers, in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific which is – culturally and geographically – the opposite of the Maghreb capital. For a long time, Sand ignored everything about her family history. He had been told that his great-grandfather was an Algerian convict and his grandmother refused to talk about him or his origins. She had even changed her first name, from Yasmina to Mina, to distance herself from her Arab roots.
“She has never beenyou’re proud of his origins”, underlines Sand, before specifying that he had never understood how his family had arrived in New Caledonia.
The Kabyle revolt of 1871
As she grew older, Sand wanted to know the truth about her Algerian ancestors. His discoveries unearthed a complex colonial history, revealing everything the French state was prepared to do to protect its empire and all the long-term repercussions on populations around the world.
In January 1871, forty years after the French seized Algeria, the Kabyles united to unleash what, at the time, was the largest revolt in Algerian history against French occupation.
The Kabyle leaders were convinced that it was time to strike against the French colonial power. France had just lost a war against Prussia, which had resulted in the fall of the French government; it was a period of fragility for the country. The revolt soon spread, and 250 tribes were represented in the rebel ranks.
The French authorities, however, reacted more violently than one might have expected: they destroyed entire villages and killed tens of thousands of people, both rebels and civilians. After a year of clashes, the revolt was crushed once and for all, in 1872. French power seized more than 450,000 hectares of land which it distributed to French settlers, before organize hasty trials against all those who had revolted against the French state.
More than 2,000 of these insurgents, including leaders of the movement, were brought to justice in Constantine, where they were presented not as anti-colonialist leaders, but as delinquents. The majority of these men, however, being from noble families, the French hesitated to condemn them to death. They preferred to exile them to the most distant land possible: New Caledonia.
Christophe Sand’s great-grandfather was one of these men. With 2,000